Tamworth's air conditioning technicians are up in arms about new state government regulations which they say could drive them out of business by forcing them to study plumbing.
Premiair refrigeration and electrical managing director Wayne Guy said the two trades could barely be less related - and plumbers aren't trained to do refrigeration or air conditioning work.
"Other than you using pipe and doing welds and stuff. That's the only similarity. The principles are completely different. There's no crossover whatsoever," he said.
The new rules were to take effect in October, but implementation has been delayed until next year.
Mr Guy has been working in the industry for 40 years. He said the new mechanical services and medical gas work licence requires a certificate in plumbing, even though it covers work that would ordinarily be conducted by heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) specialists.
He's concerned he'd be required to employ a plumber in order to stay in operation, to sign off on the work of his technicians, as is the case in other states.
"We just can't understand how they've had a problem, came up with a solution, and then got us involved," he said.
The regulations were developed in response to a tragedy in a completely unrelated industry.
The Building Amendment (Mechanical Services and Medical Gas Work) act was passed by NSW parliament in 2020 in response to the 2016 death of a baby at the Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital as a result of a mix-up in gasses to be pumped through the hospital's gas system.
But the new licensing and certifying regulations contained within the bill cover not just medical gasses, but also reach into the refrigeration and air conditioning sector.
A spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading said that medical gas work can only be carried out by licensed practitioners from the beginning of October.
"A new licence class was created for 'Mechanical Services and Medical Gas work' as part of the 2020 reforms," she said.
"While introduced in 2020, the commencement of this licence class has been deferred until 1 March 2023 to give industry sufficient time to prepare for the new licensing requirement.
"When the reforms were introduced, the amending legislation made clear that a person who holds an air-conditioning and refrigeration licence can continue to do work that is authorised by that licence, even where the work is also listed under the mechanical services and medical gas work licence.
"There have been no changes to the scope of the air-conditioning and refrigeration licence class or the eligibility (i.e. what qualifications a person must hold) to secure this licence.
"NSW Fair Trading has sent communications to all licence holders and has been working with industry associations to develop further communications and education materials, to reinforce the distinction."
Technician Simon Stevens said that grandfathering the new rules - exempting existing technicians from needing to get the new licence - would save current operators, but would make it hard for people to start new businesses.
He said it was the smaller regional businesses and sole traders that were particularly at risk from the new rules.
He has spent weeks contacting hundreds of technicians employed in the Tamworth region who are up in arms over the changes.
"Shock and awe" was the experience of most technicians, he said.
"I deal with everybody from here to Broken Hill," he said.
"I basically got onto all the businesses straightaway. And they're all brilliant.
"The only ones that weren't behind this, were the bigger ones, which are city based, and they've got franchises here. Because what they'll simply do is they'll grab a plumber, and they'll fix the problem because they'll buy a plumber from somewhere."
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